Tuesday, February 22, 2011

How To Pray

Right, so, responding to Becky's comment on the 'Faces in the Cloud' post brought this to mind. It's not about the mechanics of prayer, but about what I learned about the attitude that you have to bring to prayer.

We tend to pray for things. Not necessarily material things, at least once you hit adulthood. You tell me you never prayed for a pony/toy/puppy/kitten/etc. as a child and I will laugh at you. But we pray for situations and we tend to pray for the outcome that we desire to be what happens. I think many of us think that if we just pray hard enough that God will say, 'okay' and let it go the way we want.

That's not what happens. I'm going to explain how I came to that realization.

I've had my job for 14 years. I started when I was 14 and have moved up into my current position from being a part time receptionist. I worked with the same group of women, most of them old enough to be my mother or grandmother most of this time. These women helped raise me, essentially.

One of them, Pat, was diagnosed with lung cancer several years ago. She'd quit smoking three or four years prior to that, because her daughter and son-in-law were trying to have children and she decided that she didn't want the grandbabies to grow up around the cigarette smoke. She had kicked the habit and never had any trouble physically since. Then, one day at the gym, she coughs and there's blood in the phlegm. Pat went to the doctor and they found all these chunks of cancer in her lungs.

It was...it was devastating. I'd lost my grandfather to cancer two or three years before this and his was a long, hard death. The thought that someone I loved would be going through that again, that her family was going to have to suffer like that. The pain and uncertainty and the hard decisions...it hurt. Pat and her daughter Jen were incredibly close and you could see the fight killing something in Jen.

We all prayed for her. For Pat to beat it and recover. We wanted her to see her three grandchildren grow up. Jen had a prayer that she handed out, asking us to pray, to a saint whose 'area' was cancer. I still have the prayer, though I can't remember the name of the saint right now or any of the words. But I saved it in a little folder I keep prayers I find and print out in.

I prayed it faithfully, every day, begging God and this saint to save my friend. She just kept getting worse. The doctors were trying everything, but the cancer had gone unnoticed for so long that it was everywhere. Toward the end they found it in her brain and her spinal column.

At some point, maybe a month or so before her death, I changed what I was praying for. I can't remember what caused the change, what realization or anything like that. I just know that I didn't stop praying for her recovery, but the way I approached it was different.

I started praying that if it was God's will that she be healed. But if it was not God's Will, if His desire was that Pat be with Him sooner rather than later, that He make it easy for those of us left behind. That He help us to understand and to...not move on, but to integrate what happened into our lives and keep going.

When Pat died, she died well. If such a thing can be said about a slow, lingering death. She died in the hospital, surrounded by her family. Way too young, but by that point she was ready. Her last words were to her husband. She told him to 'let me go'. It made it...I hate to use the word 'easy', because nothing about death is ever easy. But it eased him, he said later. To know that she wanted to go. That she wasn't fighting, wasn't afraid anymore. She was ready.

*Note: And since I'm tearing up while I type this at work, one of my coworkers is asking me what's wrong.*

The point is, I learned to approach prayer less as a magic slot machine. Insert coin (prayer) get prize (desired outcome).

Prayer is not about changing God's mind about what is going to happen. It's about teaching oneself to turn to God, to rely on Him. It's about taking one's own ideas of what is 'best' and laying them aside. Accepting God's Will. Prayer is asking for the strength to accept what God deems best for our lives and to *know* that it is really the correct path.

I try to pray, when I am praying for specific intentions, in a general formula of: 'If it be Your Will, let X happen. But if it not be Your Will, then let Your Will be done, and help me to understand.' Not those specific words, mind, but you get the idea.


  1. Thanks for sharing that story and your thoughts.

    You make good points about prayer and what to pray for. One of my professors talks about this issue sometimes. He says that he always will continue to pray for healing, but works with the family/friends, the patient, and himself to understand that "healing" doesn't always mean the illness will go away and they'll be fine. Sometimes it means that the way the loss is approached has to change so emotional and spiritual healing can happen.

  2. I think that's the hardest part in any situation. Accepting that just because you pray for something doesn't mean that it's going to happen. And that that doesn't mean that you failed somehow.

  3. Great post. Thanks for sharing the story of your friend.

    I agree with your approach to prayer. I find that praying for specific outcomes is a sure way to lead myself into questioning my faith. Instead I try to state my own intentions and then ask for help/strength in acheiving them. This also reminds me to take responsibility for the things going on in my life.

  4. Exactly that. It's like pinning parts of your faith to what happens to your prayer intentions. If it doesn't fall out the way you want, there's something that grows in you, a question of if you're not 'good' enough, if you've done something wrong that God is punishing you for or even whether or not God is there and listening.

    I tend to think of prayer as less about affecting the outcome of a situation and more about affecting my reaction to whatever the outcome will be.

  5. What a beautiful, touching post! Wow, I really felt your emotion while reading it.

    I've learned this lesson over the years and I guess in a sense I've always prayed "if it be your will." But whether I always meant it, I don't know. I do try praying now for "your will be done" and hope that God helps me have peace with what He wills. It's so hard some days to trust that He is in control and that what I see as something bad may, in His eyes, be good. I just have to remember I don't see the big picture and I need to rest in my Father's care and believe that He is good.

    Not always easy to do.

    Thanks for sharing this great post!

  6. I'm glad you enjoyed it, Susie Q. :)

    *pokes you* I have to say, I honestly have trouble with the concept that you don't pray a whole lot. It just doesn't seem to fit with the rest of you. Not that that's entirely related to *this* topic.

  7. You make me laugh, but your pokes are hard! Stop it!! :-P

    I think I shocked you when I said I don't pray much. OK, I don't pray regularly set prayers. I never was taught to so it's not habit for me like, say, a devout Muslim or EO who prays set times per day. I try to have a relationship where I am aware of God at all times. But formal prayers...I'm not so good at them. I know I should fellowship more with Him, but I am not very disciplined in this matter. :-/

    I must say that I see why God does allow hard times in our lives because I am MUCH more apt to pray fervently when something is happening that destroys my peace. Such as in this post when your friend was diagnosed with cancer. But I hate that I mostly go to God when bad happens. Why do I not talk to Him more...when things are going well. HE is the one who blesses my life after all.

    I keep thinking I need to pray more, read my Bible more..but I don't. Not yet.

  8. *pokes again*

    You did shock me.

    Ahhh...I'm not even talking about formal prayers (though I think they're important, obviously). When you said you didn't pray much I was including informal prayers as well, since I know you're not from a background that uses formal prayer.

  9. ack I am so late with my replies again again....

    Your post reminded me of a childrens song I learned as a child, translated it says "sometimes God says yes, when we pray, sometimes God says wait, when I pray, sometimes God says no, only because he loves me. But I know he always answers when I pray".

    Accepting the no, or the wait is indeed the hardest part of praying, I think this is how the Muslim 'InshAllah' (God willing) is supposed to be understood (when it is used correctly that is), that we must always remember, that whatever we ask for, it is God willing, at the end of the day God knows what's best.

  10. Becky,

    At this point I'd just say you're on time for you! :D

    We had this thing with my grandfather called Kuchta time. So you can have Becky time! That way you're never late.

    That's the tricky part, of course. Learning to let go of control. We can't make the outcome we want to happen happen and we have to accept what does happen. But that's very hard, for people.

  11. Ack, I'll have it be know that for physical events I'm rarely ever late, I'm actually known for being very punctual (to the degree that I feel like I'm late if I'm not there at least 5 mins before I'm supposed to). It's just with everything online, I feel forever behind and trying to catch up.


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